A wild jump in the Lowveld

Posted by A on 15 March 2012

When there is 9000 feet between you and the ground and you are about to launch yourself out a plane, you quickly realise there are really only two choices that you are faced with: you can either keep your eyes closed or keep them open. I decided to keep mine open. I was already in the plane, strapped to my skydiving instructor, with nowhere to go except out the door. I was in no position to start negotiating. I had willingly passed the point of no return and I had to face the fact that my fate now lay in what was strapped to my back. A hard concept to grasp when you are free-falling at 200km per hour, but the second I let go of my insecurities and any form of rational thinking, I felt incredibly liberated. This was one adventure I wanted to stay wide-awake for.

Wild Jump Malelane, an event that takes place in the Lowveld, gave me the opportunity to experience my first tandem skydive and appreciate the outdoors in a new way: fusing outdoor adventure with learning about the environment. Arranged by Kruger Park Trails, in conjunction with Wild Card, this three day, four-night adventure-packed event took me to the upper limits of nature and right back down to ground level again. Even though I consider myself an outdoorsy person, it was refreshing to see that some of our guests were ‘first-timers’. For one of our group members it was his first time outside of Gauteng, not to mention his first time in a plane. Xolele did the aviation industry proud by taking off in his first plane ride and landing in style! I started off by jumping into the wild and ended up with a little wild in me.

Here are my Wild Jump highlights:

Between a rock and …

a soft bed? Although I can rough it at the best of times and enjoy doing so on occasion, it’s always a treat when I stay in a place where I feel like I’m in the bush without the bucket showers and bush breaks being part of the routine. There is something magical about the place. Nestled amongst huge granite rocks, with expansive views of the Bushveld below, Kwa Madwala located on the southern side of the Kruger National Park, was our first pit stop of our Wild Jump adventure. I couldn’t resist the outdoor shower with its awesome views and I confess I ended up smelling too clean – if that’s technically possible. Surrounded by 4000 hectares of Bushveld, with my morning entrée of filter coffee and rusks, I felt like this was something I could make part of my daily routine.

Intelligent pachyderms

‘Take off a piece of clothing and place it anywhere on the ground behind the elephant,’ our guide informed me. At first I was a little hesitant, knowing all too well that similar games (minus the elephant of course), had resulted in a loss of clothing items that never found their way back. I tried to figure out what item I could part with for this Wild Jump elephant interaction, and decided my shoe was the best bet – a little worn around the edges. We watched as the elephant expertly identified each piece of clothing with its owner by picking it up and placing it in their hands. I graciously received my shoe back again with a round of approval from the Wild Jump group. What appears on the surface is a toughened exterior of skin that protects this huge creature from the elements, but on the interior is an intelligent soul that commands respect. 

Reaching new heights

I recently watched a National Geographic documentary where a Peregrine falcon raced against a skydiver from 15,000 feet and the top speed reached – by the falcon – was 289 km/h. Although I wasn’t in a skydiving competition against a falcon, it was incredible to experience something close to the speeds travelled by this high-velocity hunter. It is hard to believe that this bird can catch prey on the wing travelling at these top speeds. The only thing I was trying to catch on the way down was my breath and I eventually caught up with it again an hour after my Wild Jump. The professionals from Skydive Central took us through the motions and ensured that we were still breathing and had a smile on our face throughout the entire skydiving adventure.

Notch up a gear

I have always admired how a group of almost complete strangers pull together when it most counts. Our 4×4 trail along the Madlabantu Adventure Trail in the Kruger National Park, was expectantly challenging and required more than a shift in vehicle gears to see our fleet of 4×4’s and Bush Trotter trailers through. Chipping in with a witty word of encouragement, a suggestion or two or plain muscle power, we expertly navigated the trail. Our teamwork would have made a pack of wild dogs looking in on us rather jealous – or so we thought at the time. We came off the road hardier, more shrewd and bolstered to move onto whatever lay next…

A choice breaky

I could vaguely hear what sounded very much like the guttural call of a Southern Ground Hornbill, one of the flagship species of the Lowveld, but I suspect it was the guttural call of my hungry stomach. I was glad for the chance to unwind from our 4×4 trail and stop for something to eat. Under the shade of a majestic Marula tree, our team prepared a hearty and in my opinion, a well-earned breakfast. The bulk of South Africa’s wild Ground Hornbill populations can be found in the Kruger National Park, feasting largely on a diet of small vertebrates and larger insects. SANParks is doing important conservation work on these threatened birds so the next time you hear a guttural call that is not your stomach, see if it’s a Ground Hornbill and if so make sure to report your sightings to the Ground Hornbill Census.

From the ground up

When you step outside of your comfort zone and experience something new, you will come out with new perspective. The best part of my bush walk in the Kruger National Park was sharing it with people that had never stepped foot into a wilderness area before. I could see eyes growing in size as our guide showed us the impressive size of the Golden Orb-web Spider in comparison with its puny male counterpart. I wasn’t sure if it was the actual size of the spider or the realization that men are inferior in the arachnid world that ignited a few murmurs from the group. A few Lowveld locals decided to give us a run for our money by challenging us to a round of Bushveld Identification 101. Inspecting the dung of the Black and White Rhino for clues was fascinating and once again ignited more chatter amongst the group.

Under a blanket of stars

He hunts by night with his two trusty hunting dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor by his side. With our Hunter, or fondly known as the constellation of stars called Orion watching over us from above, we took up our places on the cool granite outcrop, our dinner spot for the evening. Located in the middle of the Kruger Park was a spread of mouthwatering African cuisine, illuminated by candlelight and the moon overhead. We ate our fill of braai dishes and recounted the events of the day. As our bellies started to expand, so did our stories. Amongst all the laughter, I could have sworn that one of guests said that he was going to quit his job and take up skydiving permanently. All is good under the African sky, particularly when you can share your adventures with others.

The next Wild Jump Event is heading your way.

Wild Jump Details

Dates:  26 – 29 March 2012
Prices range from R2 990 to R11 650 per person
  Kruger Park Trails, Tel 072-626-1700, [email protected], www.krugerparktrails.com

Chose your next adventure here.



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